On Wednesday, 27 March morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi created a buzz in newsrooms across the country when he put out a tweet saying he would be addressing the nation later with an “important message”.
The tweet predictably brought back memories of his last address in 2016, when he had announced the demonetisation of high-value currency notes.
BJP’s Real Intention Behind “Important Message”
There was all-around anticipation about a similar big-bang announcement once again. Coming ahead of next month’s crucial Lok Sabha election, it was a given that the prime minister’s message was essentially aimed at setting the agenda for the coming polls, boosting the BJP’s electoral prospects, and showing the Congress in poor light. So, when PM Modi finally went on air to tell the nation that India had become the fourth nation to bring down a live satellite with an anti-satellite missile, the announcement failed to generate any excitement.
Undoubtedly, Indian scientists have accomplished a rare feat, catapulting the country to the elite space club, but the timing of the address made by no less than the prime minister himself suggested that his message was basically aimed at earning brownie points before the elections.
On any other day, the announcement would have been made by the scientists at the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
The BJP’s real intention was revealed subsequently when Modi’s address was followed by a series of tweets by his ministers congratulating the government with the slogan “namumkin ab mumkin hai”.
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Moreover, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley gave the game away when he declared that the previous government never gave the go-ahead for this mission, suggesting that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had been deficient in addressing national security concerns.
BJP’s Nationalist Agenda Must Stay the Course
While the jury is still out on whether it was proper for the prime minister to make this announcement in the midst of an election, it is clear that Wednesday’s “grand disclosure” was essentially an extension of the nationalist card being vigorously pushed by the BJP after the Pulwama attack and the Balakot air strikes.
The saffron party has since used every occasion and platform to project Modi as a strong, decisive leader who alone is capable of safeguarding the country’s national security.
Anyone raising doubts or asking questions about the Balakot mission has been immediately dubbed anti-national.”
Having set out on this path, it has become imperative for the BJP to ensure that its nationalist agenda stays the course. In fact, Modi's latest address to the nation came off as desperate attempt to see that the narrative set in motion by him is not overtaken by uncomfortable questions on the country’s ailing economy, lack of jobs and the raging agrarian crisis.
The government is clearly on the back foot on these issues, and wants to steer the political discourse away from them.
Congress’ Surgical Strike on Poverty
In fact, there was a clear possibility that livelihood issues would return to the political centre stage after Congress President Rahul Gandhi announced earlier this week that if voted to power, his party would implement a minimum income guarantee scheme under which an amount of Rs 72,000 would be transferred to the account of beneficiaries.
The Congress had been on the back foot after the Pulwama terror attack and India’s retaliatory attack against Pakistan, having been effectively silenced by the BJP’s aggressive pitch on nationalism.
The grand old party chose to unveil what Rahul Gandhi described as his party’s “surgical strike on poverty” to counter the Modi government when it found that the initial excitement post-Pulwama was gradually waning, and people had started questioning the government’s claims on the Balakot air strike.
The Congress’ promise elicited considerable interest and has been hogging the headlines ever since Rahul Gandhi announced it.
Will Mission Shakti Resonate With the Common Indian?
The BJP felt it was on safe ground as long as the Congress focused on the Rafale deal and continued to raise questions on the Balakot air strike. But when the Congress turned its attention to bread-butter issues, there was a real fear that Modi could lose his grip on the pre-poll political narrative. Consequently, Modi stepped in to take control once again when he sought to appropriate the country’s space programme, which was started by Jawaharlal Nehru in the sixties, and also to deflect attention from the government’s failed economic policies.
As the BJP and the Congress seek to outdo each other in grabbing headlines and eyeballs in the run-up to the elections, the big question is whether Mission Shakti will set off ripples of excitement and help in the saffron party’s mission to keep the nationalist flag flying.
However, in this case, Modi may have overplayed his hand. It is highly unlikely that a successful space missile programme, being touted as India’s “surgical strike in space” will resonate with the villager sitting in far-flung Balia who is more concerned about getting the right price for his produce.
(The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist who can be reached at @anitaakat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)